Updated on 03.25.09

Eight Thoughts for New Parents

Trent Hamm

Over the last two weeks, at least three longtime readers of The Simple Dollar plus a close friend of our family had new babies enter their life. Congratulations are in order.

The addition of a baby to anyone’s life is a major change, to put it lightly. Your life changes in countless little ways because of this new responsibility – often in ways you do not expect. Your expenses change as well – you spend more on some things and less on others.

Here are eight little thoughts/pieces of advice for all of you new parents out there.

The biggest thing your child needs is your time.
If you’re spending every free moment obsessing over the perfect crib, the perfect bottles, and so on, stop. Just stop. The one thing your child needs more than anything else is your time.

Right now, your baby needs to be held. (S)he needs to hear your voice. (S)he needs to be fed regularly and have sanitary diaper changes. Read your child some simple books. Let the child take some naps in your arms. Look directly at the child when they’re awake and talk to them about anything.

Later, they’ll need your time in different ways. You’ll be a teacher, a playmate, a nurse, and a nanny. All of these roles are important. All of these roles take time.

How do you find that time? The biggest change will be in your social life. It’s now much harder (nearly impossible in some cases) to just go out on the town for a good time. For us, social occasions moved from being an ordinary routine to being a treat. This not only freed up a lot of hours, it also saved us a lot of money.

The introduction of a child is a perfect time for other changes.
Your life is going through dramatic change right now, with many, many aspects of your normal routine thrown out of whack. If you’re looking to adopt other changes in your life, right now is a perfect time to start.

For us, the birth of our first child was a call for change. Over the first year of our son’s life, we started a huge financial turnaround. We abandoned several expensive hobbies, got our finances in order, and I gave my dream of writing for a living a sustained, serious shot.

The constant through all of this change was our family – the three of us. Now that you have the same center in your life, take advantage of all of the other waves and make the changes you want to make.

It’s not as expensive as you think it’s going to be.
When many people think about the financial impact that a baby will have in their life, they think mostly in terms of addition. Day care. More food. Baby supplies. Clothes. Ouch.

When you actually have the child, though, you begin to find that there are a lot of subtractions as well. You spend less on your own food because you find it’s easier to make a meal at home than it is to bundle up the kid and go out. You spend less on gas because you don’t go out and about every day. You spend less on hobbies and entertainment because, quite frankly, you don’t have as much time for them.

Don’t panic. The new expenses won’t be as drastic as you think they’ll be. Let your child’s needs (material and otherwise) lead the way a bit and you’ll find that things will fall into place.

Reusable supplies trump disposable supplies.
Of course, this does assume you have a washing machine and a dryer at home. Given that, though, cloth diapers, cloth wipes, and cloth bibs will save you quite a bit of money over the infant and toddler years, plus you can “yard sale” some of them at the end.

The cloth diapering is often a surprise for people. Can that really save money? The Simple Dollar has broken it down before and found that cloth diapering is significantly cheaper for just one child and is a huge savings (well into four figures) for two children.

However, cloth wipes are easier to implement. Just get a pile of cheap, soft cloths and a spray bottle of water and you’ll find that not only do the cloth wipes do a great job, you can toss them right in the wash with pretty much anything else and they come out fine.

Take a look at reusable options. You’ll find that they steadily save you money.

Make time for just your spouse.
Once a child arrives, the dynamics of your marriage will change. Quite simply, you’ll have less time to spend together and less time to communicate with one another.

Make time. Set aside periods (like nap times) where the two of you simply do some things together without the baby.

I have personally witnessed multiple relationships falter and crash because the parents failed to make time for each other when the child arrives. Not only can that be emotionally messy, it can be very financially costly, too.

Eat healthier.
The first six months with a baby will result in a lot of sleep-interrupted nights for all adults involved. This will inevitably reduce your energy level during the day when you need to be performing well at work or at being a good parent or spouse.

One great way to counteract the loss of energy is to improve your energy levels via an improved diet. To put it simply, make better dietary choices. Eat home-prepared meals. Choose fruits as your snacks instead of sweets. Add more vegetables to your meals.

Making such moves will boost your natural energy level a bit, likely cause you to drop a few pounds, and make it easier for you to juggle both your familial needs and your professional needs.

Make an extra effort to find and build relationships with other new parents.
The best friend a new parent can have is another new parent, one who is going through the same experiences and can share many of the same resources.

Look around your social network for people who have recently had children and make an effort to get to know them. Invite them and their child over for a meal and see if you hit it off. If you do, that relationship will help you time and time again.

Another family with a young baby provides opportunities for low-cost socialization. It provides sympathetic ears. It provides supplies and ideas you may have never considered. It can also provide free babysitting if you’re willing to do exchanges with them. All of these can be a great benefit to you during your child’s earliest years.

Reach out to your parents as well.
A final tip: the birth of your own child is a great time to reach out to your own parents. Much as with reaching out to others with babies, your parents can be an invaluable resource for making this period go smoother.

More importantly, grandparents can play a vital role in the life of a young child. It is good for that child to experience a healthy relationship with their grandparents, and vice versa.

Do what you can to patch over any rough spots in your relationships with your parents and open up the doors as widely as you can to their involvement with your children. This is a win-win-win situation – don’t let it slip by.

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  1. Eric says:

    Timely post for me, we have our first baby due in May.

    At this point, my biggest concern is that my wife will be leaving her job and we will be relying on my salary to pay for everything. I just got a nice raise and we have a decent emergency fund but I wonder if there is more that we can be doing as a hedge against job loss.

  2. This is actually amazing insight. Our daughter is now 11 months old. I particular would recommend the advise of making friends with other parents with young children. We are the first of our close friends to have kids, and thus had to branch out a little. This was a very rewarding experience.

    I also have to back-up that it isn’t as expensive as you might of heard. We were extremely worried (and don’t get me wrong it does cost money), but it also helps save money. We spend a lot more time doing fun things around the house rather than going out (like we did before kids)… playing games, watching movies, cooking meals.

    The birth of our daughter has also given us living breathing proof that now is the time to accomplish our financial goals. There’s nothing like a little face looking up at you to say “Is my future secure?”

    Amazing post, Trent!

  3. Sharon says:

    This was a nice positive post on having children. Thank you. I agree with it all. We are expecting our 4th child. We have been a one income home and cloth diapered for all the children. Part of my “job” as the homemaker has been to use our resources wisely so I can continue to care for and educate our children.
    I would certainly echo the call the make time for your spouse. We have an early bedtime for the children (8 p.m.) precisely so that my husband and I can enjoy the rest of our evening together or doing the things we individually enjoy (reading, and other hobbies).

  4. Jenny says:

    I’ve found that a fun way to meet other parents is to go to play groups in the area. One of my favorite things is going to the free storytime at the library. They have small groups of kids for every age, and parents can be silly with their kids and each other while there. Plus, it really helped me in brushing up with my kid’s songs skills. :)

  5. We did everything to the hilt with my first children (twins). If they made it, we owned it. I quickly realized that most of the things I spent money on were completely unnecessary. With my third child, we bought cloth diapers, breast fed, used hand-me-down clothing, and a thrift shop bassinet (she slept with us after she out grew that – no bed of her own until a twin sized at 2). We fed her blended, unspiced foods from our table. Our three splurges were a nice baby sling, a good car seat, and one of those oscillating chairs. She played with boxes and pots and pans and measuring cups. I wore her a lot so she was entertained by my conversations and spent lots of time close to our faces instead of near floor level in a stroller. That’s it. Total out of pocket cost – $200. She’s five now happy and healthy. If I ever have another, I wouldn’t even dream of buying all the stuff. Simple it much better. Trent hit it dead on…if you give your baby enough of your time, the most of the stuff is completely unnecessary.

  6. Quatrefoil says:

    Just an addition to the comment about finding other parents as new friends – don’t forget your old friends even if they’re not parents. Having gone through the experience of three of my closest friends having had babies within a year of each other, it was devestating that none of them had any time or interest to spare for someone who didn’t have children.

  7. Reach out to parents!

    This has helped us so much. Both of our sets of parents live a ways away so we don’t get much actual assistance from either. But just having that emotional and mental support over the phone was more than enough help to get us through those rough days.

    And you are correct, at least for us having a kid was not nearly as expensive as we anticipated. I thought we would spend thousands on baby items and diapers and formula. In the end our parents were so excited that they bought all the baby items we need, they also constantly buy us diapers since they know we need them. Lastly, momma breastfeeds, so we don’t need to buy formula.

    Great article! Wish I had read that about 2 years ago. LOL.

  8. Sierra says:

    Wow. This is an awesome post.

    On the “reusables save you money” front: when I had my first baby, a friend gave me her stash of cloth diapers, the ones she had used for three years with her son.

    That was five years and two babies ago. Yesterday I packed them up in a box and gave them to my best friend, who is expecting her first child soon. These diapers will have covered four kids (and counting). Definitely a bargain.

  9. Susanne says:

    “If you’re spending every free moment obsessing over the perfect crib, the perfect bottles, and so on, stop. Just stop. The one thing your child needs more than anything else is your time.”

    Very, very well put. A lot of new parents spend a LOT of time worrying about this stuff. I know I did. Within a week of my son’s birth, it became evident that we didn’t need half the stuff we had, a quarter of the stuff wasn’t working properly, and the other quarter could have been obtained at a much lower price had we been willing to get it second hand. ;-) And of course, we desperately needed things we hadn’t even thought about.

    Kids are funny. Given the choice between a fancy, noisy learning toy and a piece of double-sided tape, our son will inevitably choose the tape. Children are easy to please.

    You also stated that babies are not as expensive as one might think. I agree. We have saved hundreds of dollars on travel and restaurants since having a kid, simply because it’s such a pain in the neck to get a kid ready to go out. Our son is almost two; we do take him to places like Panera and the local sub shop, but his unpredictable behavior prevents us from going anywhere really nice. His propensity for motion sickness has inspired us to stay home more, too. LOL.

  10. I don’t have kids yet, but when I do, i’m coming back to reread this post.


  11. Great list for all to read. Personally not a dad yet, but its still good to consider things before hand.

    In the hospital we emphasize prenatal preparations for moms but just as important is the postnatal diet also. With breast-feeding, long nights -the body needs all the nutrients to maintain a healthy immune system.

  12. Laurah says:

    First of all, THANK YOU for using gender-neutral language. I already love this blog, but it’s “extras” like this that get me gabbing about it to all my friends… great post, as always.

    As an aside— an answer to both “extreme frugality” types who view pets as a waste of money and people programmed by the culture to view anything non-disposable as “unsanitary”: in Bali, cloth wipes would be considered a waste. They train the family dog to act as, I kid you not, a “diaper dog.”

    I’ll stick to cloth wipes (heck, I was always fond of warm running water when I changed my daughter at home) when I start on my own grandbabies!

  13. Lynne says:

    I would like to add a couple of things. When we had children we decided that if we ever lost one of them, it would not be from something we could prevent. To that end, their safety was paramount. We had unbendable rules with consequences. The car doesn’t move until everyone is buckled. If you stand in the shopping cart, you lose the free cookie in the bakery section. We lived on a very busy road for a while and the kids were not allowed to play in the front yard. They were watched carefully. Anyone past a clear line towards the lake better have a life jacket. Helmets were needed for bicycles. Inoculations on time. YOU are SMARTER then they are. Don’t let them be the boss when it comes to their safety! Children have a way of rising to the level of expectations.

    The other thing I would like to add is that new parents always get a lot of advice. Listen to it all, but make up your own mind!! Let the fact that you know this child better then anyone else in the world give you some confidence in your decisions. These kids don’t come with a manual, and no one else’s did either! You can’t spoil an infant, so hold them close all you want. Use your instincts.

  14. Andrea says:

    Lots of good comments! I especially liked #4 — as a child-free person, I have more than once had to watch a friendship slide away because my friends either simply had no time for someone without kids, or (in at least one case) actively resented the fact that I had more time than they did.

    As for the cloth diapers–excellent tip. People lived for years with cloth diapers, and with proper cleaning (shake the poo out of them, use HOT water, etc) they are perfectly fine. A funny story–when I was young I lived on the Gulf Coast, about five miles away from a Naval Air Station. Our area was hit by a major hurricane and everything, even the Navy flight approach beacons, lost power. My little sister was only a year old, and every morning my mother hung the diapers out to dry on the deck. One day she overslept and was awakened by a knock on the door. THere was a full bird colonel & underlings, asking if we wew okay. She said yes, only to be told, “Then, ma’am, if you could get those diapers out by 8 am we’d appreciate it. My pilots use it as a directional landing landmark.” (She said yes–if she had someone from the NAS to do the washing.)

  15. Lisa says:

    I second the comment by Quatrefoil. I haven’t been able to have children, and each time one of our friends gets pregnant I know that we will lose another couple as friends. My husband insisted that this wouldn’t happen with our closest friends, but we haven’t seen them in a year. They say they don’t have time because of the baby’s schedule (he’s over a year old now). But they still do things with their friends that have kids. It is devastating for me and I don’t understand it.

  16. Gail says:

    Trent, what a wonderful, insightful blog. Babies really don’t need tons of “stuff” like the advertisers would like us to believe.
    However, one of things that new parents need to be aware of are the costs of the maternity care, the birth, and the hospital stay and related doctor’s visits for the new mom and baby afterwards. Depending on your insurance, the costs can easily bankrupt you before the baby sees his or her first birthday.

  17. Sharon says:

    Good for you, Lynne! My parents had similar inflexible rules, and the only things we were spanked for violating. And while I don’t have any kids, I see so many parents taking such stupid chances with their precious kids it breaks my heart.

    When the kids are old enough to play soccer, DON’T let them head the ball. This can so easily lead to “minor” concussions and subtle brain damage.

  18. LC says:

    VERY timely post for me. It was written on my due date. I plan to try cloth diapering but I’ve had a couple friends say their kids screamed when they wore them so hope it goes ok. I agree that they aren’t as expensive as people think.

  19. Melody says:

    Great post. I wish I had found more parents to be friends with earlier. Being “stuck” at home with my daughter was excruciatingly boring for awhile!
    I also agree about the ‘heed your own instincts’ part. My favorite is when you get parenting advice from people who have no kids! LOL That’s just priceless. According to things I’d heard/read my daughter should be either dead (from co-sleeping) or a complete spoiled princess (co-sleeping, carrying, etc) She’s neither, I’m glad to say.
    I know this is a slight downer, but Trent, bless your family, didn’t have to deal with what we had to deal with. And the fact that certain toddler/child problems are more prevalent then we’d like to think I definately say you should get your financial house in order and make sure you have good insurance! Our daughter developed Type 1 diabetes at 18 mo. We were TOTALLY un-prepared. Part of the reason I’m looking at bankruptcy right now as an un-avoidable step is medical bills because we are self-employed with no insurance. No one ever goes into(at least a 1st) delivery with a ‘SHTF’ fund on purpose, but with autism, diabetes (1-in-5 children will get it in their lifetime) and other problems that could arise later it’s always a good idea to expect the best outcome but be prepared for something worse!
    But may none of you ever need it. You can add it to your perfectly healthy, intelligent, giving, loving child’s college/house/car fund. :-)

  20. Christy says:

    I was a little put off when you grouped clothing and food with daycare. Food can be cheap and healthy and clothing is cheap from family and garage sales. But, in our area (SF bay area), daycare is roughly $10/hr or $1600/mo and this is the ONE reason why we have not had kids yet. We are paying off our debts and cannot make this work with kids – we have calculated that we will need to wait another 3 years before that cost can be absorbed after our debts are paid.

  21. Kai says:

    @ Melody, comment #13.
    You’re not being entirely fair to the childless. It is very possible for someone without children to still have valuble insights. No-one wants advice from someone who’s sure they know the only right way, and everything will be a little different for each child. That I take for granted. When it comes to having useful tips, or knowledge on what is common, or great strategies on some topics, the childless can still help out great. I have no children of my own, but I worked in a daycare for a few years, and babysat many, many, children. when it comes to ideas for dealing with some of the long-run things, I can’t help you. But when you’ve managed to keep eight children happy at once, you sure learn some great ideas that any parent might be able to use. I’ve also seen a ton of different strategies employed, and have the broad survey of knowledge that a parent who’s never held anyone but their own two kids completely lacks. So while a know-it-all isn’t fun regardless of their background, it doesn’t necessarily take popping out your own to learn some things.

  22. reulte says:

    I’d like to add another thought for new parents – particularly mothers. Childbirth can leave your hormones a mess for a while, sometimes permanently. Take care of yourself and don’t let someone saying “Of course you’re tired, you have a new baby” stop you from (1) asking for help (from partner, parents, friends) and (2) checking with the MD for anything from post-partum depression to hypothyroidism.

    Also, I agree with Kai (#14) — Take advice from anyone and everyone; you’ll figure out which ones work for you and which ones don’t.

  23. Paul says:

    Good points, but I disagree about the cloth vs disposable diaper analysis (the linked article). My experience with my newborn is disposables with wipes cost about one-half of what you have in your breakdown (don’t worry – we change him 10 times a day).

  24. Bobbi says:

    I have enjoyed learning much about children from this blog. We are cloth diapering our twins with great success. LOVE BUM GENIUS!!

    I would also say that new parents need to realize that much of what is written in magazines and on-line is slanted towards worst case scenario. Even with twins, we are up very little in the night, have not experienced great expenses, etc.

    Our one hint we got from my sister’s experience with our niece. Don’t buy clothes (and definitely not at retail prices)- no matter how cute they are. This is the most frequent gift, we have more than we can use even with two children, and everything has been a gift.

    I’d write more, but one of the boys is hungry…

  25. Denise says:

    My 2 cents worth: Unless you are planning to have a bunch of kinds, used is just as good as new, taking in mind safety features. Most of our child’s equipment came to us second hand. Looking back, the only new item I would have gotten was a newer child car seat, the kind that has a permanent base and a removable carrier. I used to worry that I didn’t have the money to buy the newest learning toy and I secretly thought that I was depriving my daughter. Nonsense, she is an intelligent, happy teenager. She slept in a laundry basket as an infant and all of our stuff came from friends and tag sales. If I had to do it all again, I would invest more money in the family-type games that we could all play together such as scrabble, checkers and so on.

  26. bay says:

    This is a great post, and as a totally isolated new mom, I wished someone had told me about meetup.com earlier. I wanted to be able to start going to playdates, but how the heck do you find them? When I was at my wit’s end, someone told me about meetup and I found a couple of groups in my area, and it has been an invaluable resource in getting us out of the house for cheap or free activities and meeting new people. Just wanted to throw that out there.

  27. Financial Dad says:

    One thought to consider as well is to weigh the cost/benefit of having one spouse stay home with children. In the long haul, this has saved us some money in childcare costs but also reaped some major family/social rewards. I believe that our kids have a greater sense of security because of my wife staying home with the kids. Interestingly, my son was much more prepared for kindergarten than many of his daycare attending counterparts.

  28. Great post!

    The kids drive me crazy sometimes, but they are priceless. They make me laugh, remember things, and see things in a new light.

    I especially love to cook for them and see them enjoy it . . . among other things.

    The only problem is they grow so fast– don’t miss grabbing the moments.

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